"Car Talk" is one of the most consistently entertaining hours on National Public Radio, with brotherly banter between siblings Tom and Ray Magliozzi centering around audience call-ins about various auto dilemmas. The brothers might seem an unlikely pair for a cartoon series (hey, they seemed an unlikely pair for a radio show!), but, what do you know, As the Wrench Turns, despite somewhat primitive animation and a less than spontaneous style that the radio show's fan will miss, has some laugh out loud moments, most of them probably intentional. The series slightly fictionalizes the brothers' lives (one hopes, anyway), positing them in a shop qua radio studio (isn't your mechanic's like that?) where they deal with various car dilemmas as well as their long-suffering producer (brace yourself) Beth Totenbag (Kelli O'Hara) and, of course, the monolithic National Public Radio.
The show is certainly not a kiddie show, at least no more than, say, the classic Jay Ward cartoons were or even The Simpsons is now. If As the Wrench Turns isn't up to the Groening standard yet (and, frankly, who is?), there are a number of great zingers sprinkled throughout this series, as in the premiere episode, wherein Ray and Tom run for President in the hopes that they will get Federal matching funds which they can then pledge to PBS, since they'll obviously lose (in a sort of nod to The Producers, I guess). This opens up a great parody episode with some very funny stuff, including a debate entitled "Choosing the Least Objectionable," a James Carville-esque political consultant, and various other relatively easy targets. It's all done in a fairly subversive manner which will probably lead to outrage by right wingers claiming that the brothers are attempting to brainwash their children.
That claim will probably only be reinforced by other episodes, notably one dealing with outsourcing, where the brothers have two Indians take over their radio jobs after being shown that a certain famous conservative broadcaster may now be voiced by a native of New Delhi. The little riff on Limbaugh excoriates his holier-than-thou attitude while simultaneously summing up his personal peccadilloes, all in about 30 seconds of screen time, which is an admirable achievement. In another episode, Click and Clack mistakenly come to the conclusion they're of another kind of Indian descent (as in the Native American type), and turn the shop into a casino. Again, kids may know something kind of amusing is going on, but it's the parents who are going to get the real gist of the jokes.
Where the show routinely goes awry is by dint of the nature of the beast itself--the Magliozzis are fantastic improvisatory performance artists, as any regular listener to "Car Talk" will attest (assuming, of course, there are regular listeners of "Car Talk"). These shows are all scripted (by "Car Talk"'s Doug 'Bongo Boy' Berman), with a subsequent tamping down of the Magliozzi's native joie de vivre. Where Ray and Tom will routinely erupt in raucous laughter at each other's purported stupidity on the radio show, here that same behavior just seems forced, as it has obviously been scripted.
The scuttlebutt on As the Wrench Turns has not been very positive, but I must say I was very pleasantly surprised by the level of comedy in most of these episodes. The Magliozzis turn a jaundiced eye to many foibles of American life, something that "Car Talk" only allows them to do within the confines of their ostensible auto advice, but Wrench lets that sensibility seep out into our world at large, with some very funny results. It's no classic, but it has a very sharp observational style reminiscent of Jay Ward, and provides enough laughs that most viewers will come away with a smile or two on their lips.
Despite the claim on the packaging, this is not an anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 transfer. The unenhanced 1.78:1 image is generally fine, with solid color and detail, but occasional aliasing, especially in scenes with a lot of motion.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is a step up from the image, with good separation and excellent fidelity. All the voice actors do great work, all dialogue is crystal clear and the occasional music segments are fun and well reproduced. No subtitles are available.
None are offered.
I didn't catch this show when it first aired on PBS, and I'm glad this review copy came my way. As the Wrench Turns will appeal to a lot of counterculture types, as it offers a very anarchistic sensibility most of the time. I suggest you Rent It to see if you want to make it part of your permanent collection.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet